Green Shoots

A journey in optimism, ethics and enterprise

Twittering Magistrate forced to resign

The British legal system is clouded in mystery to most people. Archaic clothes, funny wigs and seemingly outdated practices. Various organisations have tried to bring it up to date and make it more accessible especially for victims of crime. Locally in Newcastle you can get notification by email of the verdict of a case where you are the victim of a crime. Nice idea to try and make things a little more accountable.

All the more reason why it’s a shame that Steve Molyneux (twitter.com/ProfOnTheProwl) felt the need to resign from being a magistrate when a complaint was made that he was twittering the verdicts from trials that he was presiding over. Twittering the verdicts of cases held in public, sometimes with journalists in the room writing stories for their local papers hardly seems controversial.

Now I’ve no idea who made the complaint or why @ProfOnTheProwl felt the need to resign, but my guess is that someone didn’t want their details being twittered round the web. And I guess when you get caught doing something wrong you don’t want anyone to know. However, I believe that there is a greater degree of accountability that comes from people knowing when we break the rules. The Tyne and Wear metro has run a successful campaign of naming fair dodgers in the paper. I know of one regular fair dodger who now buys a ticket solely because they don’t want their name in the paper.

Of course, we can point to examples where it doesn’t work. Plastering pictures of kids with ASBOs on the back of buses (another North East experiment) just made the kids heroes to their friends! However, we should not be put off – mutual accountability is important glue in our society that reminds us of the consequences of being “anti-social” in the broadest sense.

So should @ProfOnTheProwl and other magistrates be allowed to Twitter? Of course – in fact I would like to see far more transparency in the legal system. Let’s make court transcripts available on the web as matter of right. Let’s make sure that the local press report details of all cases – not just ones that involve sex or violence. We have a public justice system – designed to allow communities to know what was going on. In today’s world where our sense of community is as often online than not, let’s make sure the justice system is there too.

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